Presenting the bill to raise Nevada’s minimum wage, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson on Wednesday proposed amending the legislation to bring the wage to $12 by 2023.
The legislation as written calls for raising the wage to $12 by 2024 in 75 cent annual increments.
Several Nevada progressive organizations and unions who have long fought for $15 an hour, including Battle Born Progress, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Make the Road Nevada and the SEIU spoke in favor of the legislation. In an indication groups would prefer a wage hike beyond $12, the measure was repeatedly referred to as “a step in the right direction.”
Other groups however opposed the bill on the grounds that the wage needs to be raised faster and higher. And business groups voiced their traditional opposition to raising the minimum wage.
“I recognize that there are many folks who think that Assembly Bill 456 does not go far enough,” said Frierson while presenting the bill. “I recognize that there are many folks who think Assembly Bill 456 goes too far and that we shouldn’t take action at all.”
The current version of the legislation disappointed advocates who wanted a “clean $15” bill, as well as business groups opposed to a minimum wage increase.
The bill, AB 456, which was referred to the Assembly Committee on Commerce and Labor, seeks to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour for workers not offered health insurance and $11 an hour for employees who are, over five years. Under the amendment proposed by Frierson Wednesday, the bill would the wage by 75 cents in 2020, and then a dollar a year thereafter, reaching $12 and $11 in in four years.
Former Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoed a similar minimum wage bill during the 2017 legislative session.
Frierson said he believed the bill would create a “meaningful increase in wages.”
Several proponents of raising the wage — which is $8.25 per hour in Nevada, $7.25 if employers are offered health coverage — disagreed with the speaker’s assessment, saying that the wage increase the bill proposes is still insufficient to raise Nevada families out of poverty.
“We can not in good conscience pretend that this bill meets the goal of the minimum wage being a living wage,” said Vivian Leal, the health care leader for Indivisible Northern Nevada. “We can not pretend that anything under a living wage amounts to something other than a community and taxpayer subsidy through our social safety net programs to businesses.”
The bill falls short of what unions and other advocates for workers hoped for. While Union groups like SEIU have long fought for $15 an hour they and other groups called the legislation “a step in the right direction.”
“We are encouraged to see the legislature taking this step,” said Brian Shepherd, a representative of SEIU Local 1107. “We support this bill and look forward to working together with the Legislature to continue raising wages and protecting workers rights.”
Supporters of the statewide minimum wage bill said it would pump money into the economy and give employees a chance at financial stability.
Opponents decried the “one size fits all model” they believe the bill pushes and countered that increasing wages would undermine Nevada’s business climate, leading to price increases and employee cutbacks. Several businesses who spoke against the bill said a wage increase would also lead to job automation.
Freshman Republican Assemblywoman Mellissa Hardy, who owns a limited service restaurant, said she appreciated the concerns raised by the bill’s opponents.
“It only gives you so many options, as has been stated, letting employees go, cutting hours, raising prices or closing your doors,” Hardy said. “I just want it to be said on the record that employers do care, but the goal is that we want to have jobs for people and my fear is that if we do this we will lose jobs.”
Lawmakers also heard testimony from various employers who advocated for an amendment of the bill that would create a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, arguing that without a “tip credit”— a credit that allows employers to pay tipped employees a lower wage than the federal minimum wage — the passage of the bill would force businesses to reduce workers.
“Without some type of credit for the wage increase above the $8.25 current level, we will be forced to reassess our current business model, including the number of employees we have, how many hours they work, and what benefits we provide,” said Brian Chasner vice president of finance for Ellis Island Casino and Brewery.
Under the tipped worker proposal, tipped employees would remain at the current minimum wage rate while wages for employees who do not get tips increased to $12 an hour.
“I’ve heard this argument over and over again,” said Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton.”This is the thing, that tip belongs to that worker, it has nothing to nothing to do with the employer.”
“The employers need to stay out of the tipped workers business,” Carlton said.
Meanwhile, Frierson also proposed removing employer penalties from the current draft of the legislation.